William was not yet five when his mother Ada died in August 1898. His father, John Shipham, died four years later.
Now orphaned, William and his younger brother, Concord, were given over to the care of relatives. William went to live with his grandfather, Daniel Zoeller, a prominent local businessman and former mayor of Concord. Zoeller was in his seventies when he took on the responsibility of looking after his young grandson.
William was an adventurous lad, who liked nothing better than playing with his friends in the thick bush that covered much of the district. This was also an area that attracted persons regarded as disreputable or dangerous by polite society.
Zoeller was concerned that mixing with these types might lead to William being led astray and foreshadow a life of crime. As an Alderman, Zoeller still played an active role in local government as well as running a successful building business. He had little time and less patience with the boy he recognised as spirited and lacking perseverance.
While he tried to discipline William, it failed to curb his free spirits and William responded by evading his grandfather’s wrath, running away from home and truanting from school.
In November 1905 Zoeller determined the only solution was to petition state authorities to declare William uncontrollable and have him committed to the “Sobraon”, a training ship part-way between reformatory school and prison. Here, he would be subject to martial style discipline and receive a rudimentary education.
Mr Zoeller’s Deposition
Daniel Zoeller herein deposes: I am a builder and reside at Ada Street, Concord. The child before the court is my grandson. He is eleven years of age. He is an orphan. The mother is dead seven years and the father is dead two years. I have had this child and two others under my care since the death of the father.
I have sent this boy regularly to school at Concord. I have discovered since that he has been truanting and that he is continually on the streets and in the bush. He has stayed from school for a week. I don’t know where he was. He has been away from home from last Friday until last Sunday afternoon. He came home on Sunday afternoon.
He has been sleeping in the paddocks. I don’t know who his companions were. The child is completely beyond my control and I am afraid he will get in some serious trouble if he is not taken care of. I have been considering this step for some time in order to ask the State to take him.
I cannot give him an hour of the day to look after him. He is an untruthful child. I am willing to pay 4 shillings a week for his support. I ask that he be sent to the “Sobraon”.
I am 73 years of age and have resided at Concord for 40 years. The boy’s name is William Caspar Shipham. It is my duty to ask that this boy be sent to the “Sobraon”.
The “Sobraon” was intended to keep impoverished, wayward boys from ending up in gaol by encouraging them to take up apprenticeships or find other means of gainful employment. The boys were taught primarily to work hard and be obedient so that they might become “useful”.
The Boy’s Statement
Was put here for playing truant and sleeping out. I was going to school on Monday and I lost my school money and I thought I would get a hiding so I played truant for 2 days. On leaving home I did not take my bag and grandfather asked me why and I told him I had no homework to do. He went to the school to see about it. I cleared away and did not go home that night. My cousin caught me and grandfather took me to the local police and I was sent here. I have not been up before, but the police have been after me for playing truant
After leaving the “Sobraon” William was employed at Messrs. Murray and Co’s Emporium in Burwood, one of the forerunners of suburban department stores. He left there in December 1914 when he enlisted in the AIF. His Attestation Papers list his occupation as a horse driver, the equivalent of today’s courier or delivery man.
Private Shipham left Australia 11 February 1915 with the men of 4th Battalion 1st Division aboard H.M.T.S. “Seang Choon”. Although headed for the Western Front, the convoy was diverted en-route to the Middle East.
After bivouacking in Egypt, the ANZACs were sent to the Dardanelles where the British hoped to force the straits and maintain a supply route to Russia. Sustaining heavy casualties in the initial assault, the Gallipoli campaign soon deteriorated into a stalemate as the men on both sides dug in.
There were a number of raids and counter assaults by both Turkish and Australian soldiers. One of the bloodiest was at Lone Pine in June 1915, when the Australians managed to seize a line of Turkish trenches to secure their foothold on the peninsula. Private Shipham was killed on 4th June during this attack. His remains were later identified and he was buried in Shrapnel Gully.
Reports of the ferocity of the battle and the number of casualties suffered as a result, sent shock waves through Australian society. There was a mixture of grief tinged with pride as the Australian public tried to come to terms with what had happened.
Contemporary newspaper reports lauded the efforts of the ANZACs, though the extent of the losses was only hinted at. William Shipham was one of those singled out amongst those killed at Gallipoli, as one of “The Heroes of the Dardanelles”. His photo appeared in an article with the same title in The Daily Telegraph, 1 July 1915 p9.